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Elected officials should be accessible - April Avison

I've had a theory for some time now that the elected officials who don't return phone calls and don't care to comment when asked for a quote from their local newspaper usually aren't very good at the office they've been elected to hold.

While I'll concede that performing the duties of a city council member or county commissioner seems to have little to do with returning phone calls, it does bring into question the accountability of the official who doesn't have the time to talk to the public.

Without fail, every year there are elected officials who refuse to communicate with the newspaper, and thus refuse to communicate with the citizens who elected them to office. Not all these people are corrupt. Some feel they are too busy to be bothered with an interview or are concerned about saying something "on the record" that may come back to haunt them.

But if an official isn't smart enough to know what he can and can't say and doesn't have time to answer questions posed by his constituents, then he's not doing his job very well, as far as I'm concerned.

With an election coming up in November, I have some advice for the candidates. I'll preface this by saying I've never held office and I don't know any more than the average guy on the street about politics. But I do know a thing or two about communication, and I do know that the candidates who are open, honest and willing to spend all the time it takes communicating with the voters of this county are the ones who will win the election.

So here's my advice. It's absolutely mandatory that elected officials – and any sort of public officials – be accessible. If you don't want to give out your cell phone number you shouldn't have run for office. The people we need to represent us are people who are willing to listen, and people who believe that what their constituents have to say is important.

Prior to each election, many newspapers print candidate questionnaires featuring a brief biography, a photo and some general information about issues of importance to each candidate. Sometimes when those are listed, you'll see in the fine print next to some of the candidates' names: "Candidate did not respond." That's a deciding factor for me. That's when I choose not to vote for that person. Communication with the public in any form – by responding to a newspaper questionnaire, by making appearances at local events, by joining a civic organization or volunteering at a community service project – is absolutely mandatory for a candidate to earn the respect of the voters.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.